Criticism of the powerful Chinese women's swimming team at September's World Championships in Rome gained validity Wednesday when it was announced Yang Aihua tested positive for the muscle-building hormone testosterone.
Yang, the 400-meter freestyle world champion, became the fifth Chinese swimmer to test positive for a banned substance in 20 months. Three were for anabolic steroids, one for ephedrine, a stimulant.
Although Yang passed a drug test in Rome, she and other Chinese swimmers were surprised by a random, out-of-competition test conducted a week before the Asian Games in Hiroshima, Japan, last month.
Yang, who could be banned for two years and miss the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, had a testosterone level of almost three times the acceptable limit. Testosterone is the male sex hormone.
The United States and 17 other nations had called for a drug-testing crackdown after Chinese swimmers dominated in the World Championships.
Chinese coaches and officials summarily dismissed the allegations that their swimmers used banned substances to help produce outstanding results.
"It validates a lot of suspicions we've had based on what seemed to be circumstantial evidence," said Dennis Pursley, U.S. Swimming national team director.
Alan Richardson of Honolulu, a member of the medical commission of FINA, swimming's governing body, said five other Chinese swimmers tested positive in Japan, but results are inconclusive.
"Something was there, (but) we don't know what it is," he said. "We're just trying to identify it."
Richardson said FINA is awaiting the results from the International Olympic Committee-accredited laboratory in Tokyo before making any announcements.
Although Yang could lose her silver medal from the Asian Games, she is expected to keep the gold from Rome.
That does not bother silver medalist Cristina Teuscher, 16, of New Rochelle, N.Y.
"It's sad to think someone had to cheat to win," she said. "(But) it still feels like a second-place swim to me."
For U.S. coaches, Wednesday's announcement is vindication for a poor showing at the World Championships. Mark Schubert, a U.S. assistant coach, said the swimming community refused to remain mute after doing so when East Germany's swimmers were dominating in the 1970s and '80s.
After Germany was united at the end of the Cold War, it was revealed the swimmers used steroids to enhance performances. Some of the East German coaches helped China build its women's swimming program, further fueling concern.
"We've been through this all before with the GDR," said Schubert, USC's swim coach. "Now that we're going through it again, people have just had it."
Richard Quick, the U.S. national coach, thinks catching Yang might help stop further abuse.
"I think this is orchestrated, institutionalized cheating," he said of the Chinese program. "These are the same coaches who said (they) are not doing any steroids at all."
Richardson said FINA had difficulty catching the Chinese by surprise because it takes a month to obtain a visa to enter the country.
That's why officials planned their tests for Hiroshima.
"It was supposed to be a surprise," Richardson said. "I guess it was."